All you need is… cultural industries?
Cuba, a tiny island that does not have iron or coal mines or important gold deposits, which was a colony for most of its history on the western map and then always dependent on some other country, is left to develop - or at least survive — an intangible wealth that can only grow: its culture. Well used, it would be an significant source of jobs and resources.
It seems a truism, but tell that to musicians who fight cash the same in the capital's seawalk, in a park in Santiago, or to the orchestras of Cuban popular music that have to settle a space in the few dance halls or quality plazas for their concerts, or to those who do theater, that wonder so ephemeral and poorly paid. Tell it, above all, to the handful of people who promote workshops, meetings and festivals almost literally "for the love of art", dealing with misgivings in the media and institutions before any initiative designed from "the alternative", the bureaucracy in the management of economic resources and logistics, or with the almost congenital lack of foresight and harmful taste for improvising in the organization of events.
To try to boost this area a bit, or at least offer knowledge about successful experiences, was held in Havana a workshop abaut cultural industries in early December, as part of the British Culture Week program. Musicians, journalists, experienced and novice managers and - as almost always in this type of independent initiatives - a few, very few officials of state cultural institutions, were among those who filled Ship 3 of the Cuban Art Factory.
The British Embassy in Havana and the Magazine AM:PM team convened the event, with free access for people interested in knowing good practices and dialogue with some of those who from Cuba push the rock uphill, hopeful that they do not perform the useless work of Sisyphus.
The mirror of Edinburgh and the Cuban music festivals
Despite the many obvious differences between the European islands and this archipelago, they are joined by "the tremendous force of their cultural expressions." Darsi Fernández, a lawyer with experience in music production and musical management , said one of the organizers of the session that considered finding points of contact between both scenes.
The British ambassador to Cuba, Antony Stockes, is convinced that one of Cuba's possibilities is to “convert its powerful cultural wealth into creative industries; I hope you know that you have one of the most inspiring creatives in the world. ” He said that this is one of the biggest sources of resources in his country, currently, that is why they strengthen them and create “virtuous circles that contribute to the sector itself”.
We might think that they have many resources to put the culture, so "anyone dances", but according to the diplomat this is not an area that drains the money of others to boost: creative industries grow twice as fast as the rest of the British economy, and they offer three million jobs, approximately 10% of the total.
A coat of arms of that field is the Edinburgh International Festival, a performing arts event with more than 70 years, held for three and a half weeks each August in the city of Edinburgh (capital of Scotland). It is one of the oldest and largest in the world. They created it in 1947, after World War II, and it was conceived as a monument to peace and reconciliation.
In Havana, its Programming Director, Roy Luxford, gave a talk about the interiors of the mega event that invites regional and international artists. A typical edition has a symphony orchestra and a chamber concert daily. Music represents 50% of the program. There are operas, theater, dance, contemporary music, talks and debates. They make between 200 and 250 presentations, sell around 250 thousand tickets, receive half a million people (double their inhabitants) from 80 countries, and raise millions of pounds sterling.
The enormous creature does not rest outside the weeks of celebration, it only reduces its team from several hundred to 40 people, who while preparing the next edition work in the community linked to local schools and senior centers.
"Each festival must find its own DNA," Roy Luxford repeated as a mantra. This is: to have clear concepts that define it, the niches of audiences that have to conquer and, once captive, take risks proposing new artists and concepts, but strictly ensuring the quality of the shows.
The guest knows well, who spoke in Havana about how the Scottish capital is a city of festivals, with a dozen of these events of different nature coexisting during the year. It is a tradition that they have become a source of resources. According to 2015 data, that system sold 4.5 million tickets in that year alone. To get an idea of the magnitude: the Olympic Games generate about 9 million tickets, but every four years.
The financing is done through a mixture of state subsidies and contributions from patrons that influence some decisions, but according to Luxford "it is important for us that both the city government and the Arts Council are majority shareholders."
Beyond the seas, and on a scale tempered to the Cuban reality, we could think abaut synergies that ensure the profitability (rather than survival) of the best festivals that have Havana as the stage.
That desire was evident in the next moment of the afternoon, during a panel dedicated to the organizational processes of the festivals, with an emphasis on content selection.
For the pianist Ulises Hernández, manager of the exquisite Mozart Habana Festival, each of its five editions has been a challenge that puts his creativity in tension beyond the territory of music.
“When I finish I tell myself: how could it be done? It is never something I can foresee with a lot of time, because you have to go out to look for help and support that I don't know if you I'm going to achieve it. Luckily we have the collaboration of the Office of the Historian and many musicians who come for free. ”
Mozart Habana, as its name announces, focuses on classical music - through concerts and master classes - and always hosts works and tributes to the famous Austrian composer, but does not shy away from other classical or contemporary authors. Also, look for connections with other manifestations such as cinema, theater, dance, painting or literature. It is a space conceived for young performers and that has also dismissed prejudices about the audiences who listen to this music.
Hernández put on the table a characteristic that conspires against the development and permanence of these initiatives: the success of “the festivals and events in Cuba have to do with the love, dedication, and sacrifice of the people who lead them, If not, they don't happen. It may seem immodest, but they have names and surnames, of the people who are fighting for them. ”
Another artist who became a founder of a festival, Eme Alfonso, agrees with that criterion and defined her organization in Cuba as “an obstacle course”.
She created Havana World Music with a group of friends. Promoting a philosophy of collaboration and volunteering, it has become one of the most heterogeneous and stimulating events in terms of the mixture that it achieves between traditions and sound avant-garde. In addition, with its First Base contest, it offers a launching platform for soloists and emerging national bands.
It is one of the few initiatives on the Island that remains active and visible throughout the year, generating communicational content, fostering an idea of community, and closing gaps to improvisation.
However, although its producers spend a good part of the previous months "asking for all the permits that are due to be able to carry it out," Eme lamented that "letters and approvals are not guaranteed" to hold a festival without frights. . In fact, in March 2019, they were about to suspend because, among other reasons, they had to change their Metropolitan Park scenarios untimely until the smaller Salón Rosado de La Tropical.
“To select the guests I use my experience as an artist, what I learned in other festivals in the world and what I believe will be well received by the young audience. Of course, the first thing you should have is quality, originality, identity ...
“For the curatorship I relied on the lack and cultural and musical deficits we had seven years ago when I founded it, in a landscape almost completely aimed at pop and reggaeton. More or less the same now. ”
You might think that the Edinburgh Festival is an inordinate mirror for young Cuban events to be watched. However, it offers possible clues to these ventures if governments understand the benefits (cultural, civic and economic) of consolidating them as essential city destinations.
"It is not our decision, but a wish," said Eme Alfonso.
“What else we would like to manage our own tour packages, and to be able to treat a visitor with a good price! There is a lack of confidence in these projects in order to carry out these types of operations. It will have to come in the future, because it is the only way we can survive. ”
For now, the relationship between these initiatives and the authorities that might be interested are not yielding the desired fruits. Ulises Hernández said that “in the cultural management of tourism actions are being carried out in the opposite direction to what would help or enhance these festivals, because they enclose the tourist in an all-inclusive place and take him there some artists, that does not work that way in the world and it's not good for us. It is never the same to go to the place where is the energy of the cultural event.
The passion according to managers
In these events, managersare an invisible and fundamental spring, who take care, among other things, of placing artists at festivals. The career of a musician or singer is usually in the hands of these professionals, so success depends on trust and passion, just like a well-taken marriage.
At least that was the predominant idea in the panel How I became a manager, the last of the creative industries workshop offered at the British Culture Week.
Marianne McGregor, a singer from Glasgow and a jazz composer, is an emerging star who was in Havana to offer her music, and also talked that afternoon about how her manager Elizabeth Gayle is becoming more and more necessary, after a prize that gave him a lot of visibility and took off his career.
"Elizabeth is very nice, but also very good at solving problems, when I can't anticipate the outcome of something, she does," McGregor said.
And, beyond the black legends about managers half vampires of success, or with the vocation of puppeteers of their represented, the truth is that in the contemporary musical ecosystem they play an important role, sometimes bordering on the creative.
The roads to arrive at that job are diverse, there is no mark of origin that guarantees a triumph in that area, not even access. Gayle is a photographer and environmentalist; Yoana Grass (Cuba), another guest of the panel, is a lawyer; and Collin Laverty (United States) is a Master in International Affairs and an entrepreneur.
“After graduating in Law,” Grass recalled, “I dedicated myself to producing events, which connected me with many musicians, until one of them asked me to help him with his personal career. We were learning along the way what it was to be a manager, something that was not handled in Cuba. ”
Laverty also happened casually, when Cimafunk, one of the Cuban artists with the greatest exposure today, proposed to formalize that collaboration that he came to by way of friendship. "He told me he would learn and do well, he trusted me," Laverty recalled.
According to Gayle, “the manager sometimes sees easily from outside, artists can concentrate a lot on their concerts and rarely have an overview. It is important to have a person to remind them how they are doing things. ”
The international management of artists needs to develop many technical capabilities and in unison a great sensitivity to “balance between the requirement and understand the creator with whom they are working, its means, always being open to communication, always looking towards the same place, ”said Yoana Grass, who has taken care of talented jazz players like Harold López-Nussa, Yissy García and Daymé Arocena.
"It is very important to look far, you have to structure many things, from the repertoire, the album, a huge and ever-changing range of issues ... As you develop more capabilities and dialogue with your representative, improve the work team and perhaps more can be reached far".
The formation of those who want to dedicate themselves to this is not structured or has institutional shortcuts, at least in Cuba there is no such career or something that is a direct bridge. According to Darsi Fernández, a group of professionals work with the Higher Institute of Art to create a Master in Cultural Management that will include management artist management. Of the wolf, a hair.
However, in what the academy favors expedited access to that necessary knowledge, those who intend to be managers in Cuba must be updated and have the ability to adapt, observe how to move better in new environments, create professional networks.
Marianne McGregor, who has been compared no less than with Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse, summarizes what an artist expects of who is supposed to take him to the safe harbor in the industry: “Sometimes I got the impression that those who approached me they didn't put my interest ahead, so the most important thing is that they understand the integrity of my proposal, the artistic value of music. ”
*Content sponsored by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Havana
Raúl Medina Orama